November 17, 2013

An interview with Elon Musk

Elon Musk (his twitter) is the founder (or co-founder) of companies like PayPal, Tesla Motors, SpaceX, and SolarCity. This interview was my first exposure to Elon Musk and it inspired my to write a book about him called The Engineer - Follow Elon Musk on a journey from South Africa to Mars. The interview is from 2012.

Lessons learned
  • He grew up in South Africa, then at age 17, he moved to Canada where he studied, and then he moved to the United States to study even more. The reason to why he wanted to move to the US is because he thought all technological progress happened there. 
  • While still in South Africa, he taught himself how to code because he wanted to learn how to make games. He didn't know if he wanted to become an entrepreneur but he has always liked to create new technologies.  
  • It was interesting to hear that Elon Musk (CEO of two companies and one of the richest people in the US) failed to get a job at Netscape even though he had two degrees in physics and economics from a good University. So if you ever fail to get a job, don't be depressed about it! This is when his entrepreneurial life begins, since he didn't get a job at Netscape, he had to create his own job by founding the company Zip2.
  • Elon Musk gave up his position as CEO of Zip2, but he would later regret that decision. When he first had founded the company and to learn how to start a company, he read books (mostly biographies) and applied learn-by-doing.   
  • While still in college, he came up with three things that in the future would affect the future of humanity: the Internet, the transition to sustainable energy, and space travel.
  • The history of SpaceX began with an idea to make people more interested in space, but Elon Musk would later change the idea to what SpaceX is today. He had made a lot of money from Zip2 and PayPal, so he didn't expect to make money from SpaceX - he did it because he really believed in the idea. 
  • To help the transition to sustainable energy, Elon Musk became interested in electric cars. The idea behind Tesla Motors is to make an electric car that is better than a car powered by gasoline. Elon Musk didn't actually found the company, but he was the first investors in Tesla Motors, and his idea was to just invest money in the company. But a few years later, Tesla Motors had really big financial troubles, so Elon Musk thought he had to take over as CEO to not lose his investment. 
  • He has found several ideas while in the shower in the morning, or at times when he couldn't sleep.
  • Seek out and listen to negative feedback. People tend to avoid listening to this because it's painful. "Don't tell me what you like - tell me what you don't like," he always asks. But remember that the feedback may also be wrong. 
  • It's also important to reason from first principles - not from analogy. If you reason from first principles, then rockets are not expensive, but if you reason from analogy, then rockets are expensive. Or nobody wants a car because horses are great.   

More articles in the same series: Lessons learned from the Foundation interviews